Mastering The Art of Vegetarian Cooking

Further Complications

Well, now the blogging AND the cooking are suspended for a while. I broke my ankle Tuesday, and won’t be able to stand to cook for weeks. More info here:


Crying “Uncle”

So I really am enjoying the cooking part of this enterprise. I am up to 146 recipes, on pace to finish the book in about a year and a half or two years. That’s fine; I like the challenge of a time frame, if a loose one, and I like the structure of cooking from one book. The part I don’t like? Blogging. I apologize to both my regular readers, but I find that the cooking (and planning and shopping) are too time-consuming and, frankly, more compelling than writing about it. If something spectacular happens, I’ll come post about it here, but the pressure to blog every meal I cook is sucking the fun out of this adventure.

I hope you will all buy Deborah’s cookbook and experiment for yourselves; I’m going to go back to cooking in anonymity, and with less stress. Let me know if you cook something from the book; I’d love to hear.

Day 49: Thanksgiving!

We never host Thanksgiving. It’s almost always at Jon’s aunt Judi’s house, and her kids and grandkids,  Jon’s parents and our family are generally in attendance. This year, as they do every few years, Jon’s parents visited their middle son in New York state instead, and (for the first time I remember), Judi’s oldest son and his family could not come either. So we were a small-ish group– only eight– which seemed like the perfect number to try out a few recipes. And, by a few, I mean nine.

That pretty plates belong to Jon's aunt, Judi

The main dish was not from the cookbook– Judi & Alan made a turkey, and I made a Quorn-brand vegetarian “roast.” There weren’t any roast-like dishes in the cookbook and, besides, the whole family has traumatic memories of the last “roast” I made (from Linda McCartney’s cookbook, in 1995– horribly dry and repulsive). Instead, I made cornbread dressing from my mother’s cornbread. I had expected to go to my mom’s recipe cards and find the dressing recipe alongside the cornbread recipe, but it was nowhere to be found. I guess it came from her head, which left me to search for a reasonable facsimile on the internet. I found one, from Paula Deen, and cooked it two ways– Jon’s family likes their dressing baked in a shallow baking pan, to maximize the crispiness. My mom always cooked it in a loaf pan (and Jon’s mom, when she’s there, always makes me a pan this way), maximizing the moistness. I made mine two ways, too, though Paula must have been swilling her cooking wine when she wrote the recipe,  because it called for seven cups of broth– and after I’d added four cups I realized it was already too wet. It came out fine, though, after a little extra cooking time for the loaf pan version, and was delicious– tasted just like Mom’s.

From the cookbook we had Roasted Potatoes with Garlic and Herbs, made with little fingerling potatoes. I was concerned Iwaited too long to put them in the oven (I prepped at home and cooked most of the meal at Judi’s), but they got done just in time. I spent most of the morning preparing the Rice and Winter Squash Gratin (while watching the parade), and I baked it once I got there. Jon and I thought it was excellent– made with Acorn Squash and Basmati– but I don’t think Judi’s family tried any. I cut up three pounds of asparagus at home and cooked Slivered Asparagus Saute once we got there, and discovered that three pounds is way more asparagus than eight people can eat.

On Wednesday I baked my first loaf bread from the book– Peppered Cheese Bread. It cooked much more quickly than it was supposed to, so I was worried it wouldn’t be done in the middle, so I had to cut it ahead of time to check. It was delicious. 🙂  Thursday morning I prepped the carrots to braise at Judi’s; you’re supposed to cook down the liquid until it’s syrupy, but the carrots were really, um, well-cooked by the time that started to happen. I also made Gingered Cranberry Sauce, which sounded great to me (I love ginger), but was very ginger-y. I added lots of sugar to make it more palatable to my audience, and they seemed to like it fine (though Jon’s cousin couldn’t get over its spiciness).

The piece de resistance was the Angel Biscuits. Or, at least, they were supposed to be the piece de resistance. Instead they were a near-disaster.  They are yeast biscuits, but you’re not supposed to let them rise. Since I had to make them well before they’d be baked, so I decided to put them in the freezer for ten minutes to stop them from rising, then take them out and leave them in the cold garage until time to transport them. I had to run up to take a shower, so I set the timer and put Madeline in charge of moving them out of the freezer. Apparently, though, a few minutes after I left, Jon asked Madeline to go change clothes so she could go with me to Judi’s. She said, no, she had to wait until the timer rang, because she had to take the biscuits out of the freezer. Jon assured her he’d do it, and sent her upstairs.

An hour later, I’d finished my shower, Madeline was dressed, and we packed up to go to Judi’s. I was partway there when I realized we didn’t have the biscuits; I asked Madeline if she took them out of the freezer. She explained what had happened, and I called Jon to ask if he took them out. “What?” he replied. The short version is that he apparently did not listen to anything Madeline said, past, “timer blah blah take out blah blah,” and when the timer rang he took the dressing out of the oven (which was, in fact, turned off anyway).

The biscuits had been in the freezer nearly two hours.

There’s a happy ending to this story, though– Jon brought them when he came to Judi’s a little while later, I let them thaw while I cooked everything else, and they came out just fine. In fact, they were darn good, despite the fact that I did not have a pasty cutter and had nearly given myself Carpal Tunnel trying to cut butter into flour with two knives. Who thought that up, anyway? It’s just sadistic, that’s what it is. I have since bought a pastry cutter and had one occasion to use it, and I have to say, that thing rocks.

Elwood update: Jon says we should change his name to Chanukah, because he was only supposed to last a day and he’s still here more than eight days later… It seems as though his heart is holding up better than expected, and he’s still enjoying his newly steak-enriched diet (though it turns out he has no use for chicken livers), as well as all the attention we’re lavishing on him.

Roasted Potatoes with Garlic & Harbs, p. 411; Rice and Winter Squash Gratin, p. 546; Slivered Asparagus Saute, p. 335; Braised Carrots, p. 351; Peppered Cheese Bread, p. 667; Gingered Cranberry Sauce, p. 80; Angel Biscuits, p. 650; Paula Deen’s Cornbread Dressing

Day 47: Pinto Bean Soup, Spoon Bread, Skillet Asparagus

The most appealing thing about this pinto bean soup recipe was how easy it was. I hadn’t really planned to cook two days before Thanksgiving, but my kids love soup and beans, so I decided to throw together a meal with what I had on hand. I love that I have enough things on hand now, after changing my shopping habits, that I can do that.  I did use a mixture of beans, though, with small red, small white, and pinto. I made the beans in the pressure cooker because — of course — I had not soaked them. (I’ve run through all the lentil soup recipes already, as those are quick and easy, and a family favorite.)

I topped the soup with cilantro and onions, and served it with spoon bread. I felt like it was more egg-y than I’d have liked; I was expecting a more bread-like texture. The kids were lukewarm about it, too; I made the Cheese and Chile variation, but I think it could have used much more than a half cup of cheese (and my cheese-loving daughter agreed).

The skillet asparagus was quick and simple, though maybe a little strange served on the side with soup. No matter… the kids aren’t huge asparagus fans, so there were lots of leftovers. I put some leftover vinaigrette on arugula and served that with it, too.

(Oh, and Elwood’s still with us, if you’re following his saga. He was even running around in the snow yesterday, chasing squirrels and causing me to worry about him stressing his heart!)

Pinto Bean Soup, p. 222; Cheese and Chile Spoon Bread, p. 648; Skillet Asparagus, p. 334.

Next up: THANKSGIVING! Eight recipes…

What’s Going on Here

Elwood J. Dog, on our bed (where he is not normally allowed)

Just a note about the non-cooking part of my life (which occasionally prevents me from cooking): Our beloved pet, Elwood, a twelve-year-old Brittany Spaniel/Australian Shepherd mix who joined our family at six weeks when it was just me and Jon and our Aussie, Boomer, is very sick. In fact, he’s dying. We spent the day at the veterinary hospital on Saturday, afraid we wouldn’t even get to bring him home. He has a tumor in his heart, and his pericardium had filled with blood. They drained it, though, and he is home and being showered with love and affection (and steak, a rare treat for a dog stuck in a vegetarian household). He probably only has days left, but we are trying to enjoy him and make him as comfortable as possible for whatever time he has.

If I disappear again for a few days, you’ll know why. I’m only two posts from Thanksgiving, with EIGHT recipes (plus two that weren’t from the book because I had to have cornbread dressing, which isn’t in the book, and it had to include my mom’s skillet cornbread), so stay tuned for that!

Day 46: Millet & Chickpea Pilaf, Carrots with Herb Butter, Cauliflower with Bread Crumbs

Planning the menus is so time-consuming; that’s something I hadn’t really anticipated. I can sit down with the book, my notebook, and the shopping list program on my phone and spend a couple of hours planning three day’s meals. Yikes. That’s why I’m so behind on the blogging (sorry)– the planning and cooking take up so much time!

On Monday November 23 (can I really be two weeks behind?), I decided to go with a millet dish. I hadn’t made millet for the family before, and I had a feeling Madeline would object to the texture (she doesn’t like quinoa), but I’ve committed to cooking everything, so… It turned out fine, though it was too tomato-juice-y to really be a favorite of mine. I’m not sure why, but I don’t really liked the taste of tomato juice in recipes (or canned tomatoes either, for that matter). I was right about Madeline, but the rest of the fam liked it fine. The carrots were good, with “herb butter and olive oil sauce.” I managed to remember to get the butter out ahead of time, something I am historically terrible at.

The cauliflower with bread crumbs is deceptively simple, but really good. One of the things I’m learning from this project is to remember there are infinite ways to spice up (well, not literally spice up, but you know what I mean) plain, steamed vegetables. I also made a saffron vinaigrette for some arugula; it was a happy accident that it went with the pilaf that also had saffron in it.

One little plug: My darling friend Emily introduced me to Penzey’s Spices in Arvada. They have a location in Old Littleton, too, though I haven’t been to that one yet. (I think I need to work there.) I have been using mostly fresh herbs, and I had already filled in (or replenished) my spice rack from the grocery store and Whole Foods, but I sure wish I’d found Penzey’s at the beginning of this project!

Millet & Chickpea Pilaf with Saffron & Tomatoes, p. 532; Carrots with Herb Butter and Olive Oil Sauce, p. 51; Cauliflower with Bread Crumbs, p. 354; Arugula with Saffron Vinaigrette, p. 188.

Coming: Skillet Asparagus, Pinto Bean Soup, Spoon Bread

Day 45: Cottage Cheese & Nutmeg Pancakes (includes recipe)

I’d had these pancakes in my “menu notebook” (oh, have I never mentioned that I have a little notebook in which I plan and track my menus?) for over a week. Finally I got up early enough on a Sunday to make them for the family. They were quite delicious– and my kids are kind of jaded pancake eaters. I sometimes get carried away and make four or five different flavors at once, and I have found a just-add-water mix that is really good (Fiber One pancake mix).

The pancakes in question, along with strawberries, eggs, and fake sausage (we like Boca best for links).

These, though, got rave reviews. They were not, however, the easiest to cook. Deborah specifies that they be cooked over medium heat, but I found a lower heat necessary to keep them from burning and still cook them all the way through. She does note that they take longer to cook than most pancakes, and that was my experience.

Cottage Cheese and Nutmeg Pancakes

  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 4 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (I recently bought whole nutmeg and find it’s really better when you grate it yourself)
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup flour
  • Oil or butter for the pan

Whisk the yolks and buttermilk together in a bowl. Stir in the cottage cheese, butter, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and whisk them together in a few swift strokes. Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks, then fold them into the batter.

For each pancake, drop 1/4-cup batter onto a griddle or large skillet set over medium heat (I used low). Cook until the surface is thoroughly laced with bubbles, about 4 minutes, then turn once and cook briefly on the second side. These generally take a little longer to cook than other cakes.

Over all– delicious, if a little fussier than other pancake recipes. I haven’t done a nutritional analysis (did you know there are sites for that?), but I’m guessing it’s pretty decent, since the cottage cheese and buttermilk must add plenty of calcium.

Cottage Cheese and Nutmeg Pancakes, p. 631

Up next: Millet & Chickpea Pilaf with Saffron and Tomatoes, Carrots with Herb Butter & Olive Oil Sauce, Cauliflower with Breadcrumbs, and Arugula with Saffron Vinaigrette

Day 43: Black Bean Soup, Quinoa Mufins and Spinach Salad

Sometimes you just can’t catch a break… On Friday the 20th, despite not really intending to cook while Jon was out of town, I decided to attempt black bean soup and muffins, since those are things my kids love. Yes, well…

Well, it LOOKS nice.

The soup is made with Madeira, which I had dutifully purchased for this recipe. My cooking was hampered a bit by the fact that I had a cold and could smell nothing (amazing how your sense of taste depends on smell). I followed the soup instructions closely– cook the vegetables and herbs in butter, stir in tomato sauce, add beans and water and boil, then simmer for an hour. Check. Only at the hour point, the beans weren’t even tender. And that’s when it hit me– I put salt in the vegetables. Now, this is a lesson I learned a long time ago, after several accidental saltings: dried beans don’t like salt. At least not until they’re nearly tender; salt keeps them from cooking properly. So perhaps that was the problem here; I’m not sure. In any case, the end result had not-tender-enough beans and way too much liquid, given that it was supposed to be pureed and served. It was runny, with disturbing chunks of insufficiently tender beans. Not pretty. And then I added the Madeira, and when I put it in front of the kids, Baxter said, “this smells like wine!” Which, apparently, is a bad thing when you’re eight.

At least I was spared Sophie’s “ewwwww” reaction, since she had put herself to bed at 5:00 pm in a fit of pique. They didn’t even like the muffins, particularly, though I liked them a lot. I made them with red quinoa, as suggested by blog reader Max, and they were tasty. Madeline does not like the texture of quinoa, though, and my hope that baking it in a muffin would help was in vain.

Even the salad was weird; it called for sunflower sprouts, but I had no luck finding those. I decided to go with pea shoots instead, knowing it was a far cry, but feeling it better than nothing. Turns out– not really. They were stringy and vaguely unpleasant. Someday I’ll find sunflower sprouts, and I’ll try it again.

So, better luck next recipe…

Black Bean Soup, p. 231; Quinoa Muffins, p. 644; Spinach Salad with Sunflower Seeds and Sprouts, p. 147

Coming up: Cottage Cheese and Nutmeg Pancakes

Day 41: Broccoli Puree, Baked Tofu, Barley Risotto, and Sauteed Peppers

You know, sometimes you do your best, and it’s just not good enough.

This menu was a fairly big risk, and a fairly spectacular failure. I figured the kids love tofu, they love broccoli… I needed some color, so I added the peppers. I love barley, and the others typically do, too, so I put that in. In retrospect I think it was a failure of menu planning, rather than of recipes or of preparation; just too risky.

The puree was too strange a texture for the kids (I actually loved it); I had so much left I was trying to figure out what kind of soup or something I could make out of it. I didn’t ever think of anything, but I served it to a friend instead. The peppers were the thing the kids all professed to like (and chose when I served a leftovers smorgasbord a few days later), but they didn’t really eat them.

I thought the tofu was a slam dunk, but Jon was completely turned off by the mustard marinade, and the kids scraped it off before they ate it. (I must confess, it had a…strong…flavor.)  The barley was excellent– a perfect risotto, despite not being arborio rice (who knew?), and Jon and I loved it. The kids didn’t.

So, you live and learn. I learned another way to make a “risotto” (I also make it with Orzo, the tiny rice-shaped pasta, and it’s delicious and–bonus– you don’t have to watch and stir, just simmer and it’s done). I learned there’s only so much mustard I can get away with putting in Jon’s food. I learned that cooked peppers are never as good as they look or sound. And I learned that I loved pureed food, but my kids– not so much.

Broccoli Scallion Puree, p. 340; Sauteed Peppers, p. 402; Baked Tofu in Mustard-Honey Marinade, p. 605; Barley Risotto, p. 520.

Next: Black Bean Soup, Quinoa Muffins,  Spinach Salad with Sunflower Seeds & Sprouts.

Days 39 & 40: Winter Squash Gratin, Wheat Berries with Chickpeas, Lentils and Tarragon, and much more…

I’m playing catch-up here. My sincerest apologies to anyone who’s actually checking in; Thanksgiving and its lead-up kicked my ass. I’ve still been cooking; it’s just the blogging I can’t seem to find time for!

Way back on Day 39 (which was actually Nocember 16!), I made Butternut Squash Gratin with Onions and Sage, Rice with Spinach, Lemon and Dill, and Red Lettuces with Radish Sprouts. The gratin was good, though not terribly cheese-y (it only contained a half-cup of Fontina). The cubes of squash were floured and fried before they were baked in the gratin, which made them extra tasty. The kids were dubious, even though it had a breadcrumb topping (usually a slam-dunk with them); Sophie complained that it was too sweet, and Baxter was put off by the texture. Under-10 tastebuds notwithstanding, though, it was delicious. Jon and I both loved it.

The rice suffered from the latest batch of Basmati I bought… I’m not sure what is wrong; at first I thought its slightly mushy texture was because I first cooked it in the pressure cooker (even though the pressure cooker doesn’t usually do that to rice), but this time I cooked it conventionally and it still had a mushy feel. The dish was good, though; I did have to back off on the lemon juice to keep Jon from thinking it was too sour.  The salad was good, too, though the sprouts were mix between radish (which were delicious!) and alfalfa. I wish I could find radish sprouts by themselves. Between those and the Braised Radishes, I’m a radish convert.

On Day 40, November 17, I made one of my favorite dishes so far. It contains wheat berries, which I rarely make but always love when I do.  It also has chickpeas and lentils, two of my other favorite ingredients. I used the little green French lentils (also known as “Lentils de Puy”), which retain their shape and give a nice resistance when you bite them. I am not usually a huge fan of tarragon, but I liked this dish very much. The kids enjoyed it, too, though they were not quite as enthusiastic as Jon and I were.

The only other dish that night was Spinach and Tomato Salad with Walnut Dressing, which was maybe my favorite salad so far. That’s because it had more stuff in it– onions, mushrooms, tomatoes… Yum. And, remarkably for this nut-hating girl, the dressing was even fine. Madeline loved it, the other two kids liked it okay (Sophie deconstructed it, picking out the mushrooms and tomatoes), and Jon ate it happily. (He only despises spinach when it’s cooked.)

This was a delicious meal, despite only containing two recipes!

Butternut Squash Gratin With Onion and Sage, p. 287; Red Lettuces with Radish Sprouts, p. 139; Rice with Spinach, Lemon and Dill, p. 541; Whole Wheat w/Chickpeas, Lentils and Tarragon, p. 559; Spinach & Tomato Salad with Basil-Walnut Dressing, p. 147

Up next: Broccoli & Scallion Puree, Baked Tofu in Mustard-Honey Marinade, Barley Risotto, and Sauteed Peppers